During my education, I took many Art History classes. I learned about the old masters—Dutch, English, Spanish, and Italian. Yet, I never learned about my favorite artist. Artemisia Gentileschi.
I first learned about this female baroque Italian artist from a historical fiction novel entitled, The Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeland. After reading this book, I had to learn more about this woman and her art. That is why the next two months Historical Costume posts center on this grand dame
Artemisia Lomi Gentileschi was born on July 8, 1593 in Rome. She was the eldest child of Prudenzia di Ottaviano Montoni and Tuscan painter, Orazio Gentileschi. In 1605, her mother died and she began painting in her father’s workshop. In those times, an artist learned by apprenticing with an artist. Artemisia showed talent and love for art that her siblings lacked. There she learned drawing, how to mix color, and how to paint.
By her later teenage years, she showed great talent and her father proclaimed she had no peer.
She took after her father’s style which was inspired by Caravaggio. Yet, this great talent had a style of her own. She was highly naturalistic.
In 1611, her father was working with Agostino Tassi to decorate the vaults of Casino delle Muse located inside the Palazzo Pallavicini-Rospigliosi in Rome. In May of that year, Tassi visited the household where he raped Artemisia. In those days, a rape survivor had to marry her rapist to restore (I write that with a sneer, snort, and great derision) her reputation and secure her reputation. Her father pressed charges against Tassi but not for the rape but his failure to marry Artemisia.
The trial lasted seven months. During the trial, Artemisia was tortured to discover if she was lying. Thumbscrews were used on her hands, which could have destroyed her artist life. During the torture, it is recorded that she cried out repeatedly, “It’s true. It’s true.”
Tassi was found guilty and banished from Rome, a sentence that was never carried out thanks to the pope who wanted him to stay so he could continue creating art for him.
During this time, her father was trying to save his daughter from ruin. He wrote to the Grand Duchess of Tuscany pleading for her to intervene in the trial. He also found a husband for his daughter.
On November 29, 1612, Artemisia married a Florentine named Pierantonio di Vincenzo Stiattesi in Rome. Soon after her marriage, she and her husband departed for Florence where with the Grand Duchess’s—Christina of Lorraine— support she found a place in the Medici court and thrived as a court painter. In 1613, on September 21, Artemisia gave birth to her first child, a son named Giovanni Battista. During her seven years in Florence, Artemisia produced great works of art that I encourage you to seek out as well as three more children. On November 9, 1615, she gave birth to her second son Cristofano and on August 2, 1617, her daughter, Prudenza, was born and October 13, 1618, her last child, Lisabella, made her appearance. Sadly, Lisabella died less than a year later.
Artemisia continued to create art and sold to the great collectors of the time period throughout Europe. And her works brought much recognition. Artemisia was the first woman to be accepted in the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno on July 19, 1616.
Yet, she did not remain in Florence. In 1621, Artemisia and her family returned to Rome where she continued to paint. In 1623, her husband leaves and she lost all contact with the man.
Her works were so in demand that she traveled to Venice, Naples and even joined her father in England and Charles I’s court. She departed England as the English Civil War began. She continued to paint even to an old age. It is believed she died around 1656.
This month’s work of art is entitled Esther Before Ahasuerus. For this month’s Historical Costume post, I will be focusing on the female named Esther or the Queen’s outfit. Next month, I will be breaking down the king’s garments.
Esther Before Ahasuerus is dated to 1630 and the garments confirm that date. The style of the sixteenth century changed at this time from the decades before this time.
Esther’s garment is soft and shimmering satins (made of silk) of the luxurious golden yellow or a bright mustard yellow. The robin’s blue egg sash is of the same material and reflects the light on our fainting figure. The upper half of the sleeves, which are called Virago Sleeves are the same yellow satin of the dress. The lower half of the sleeves are damask and embroidered with gold flower and leaf pattern. Lace peeks out at the end of the sleeves and along the bodice. She’s donned a bejeweled belt and with a jeweled- brooches pinned at the virago sleeve.
Beneath this striking gown, Esther must be wearing a chemise made of linen and corset that is shorter than the bodice, that are a looser design than the style of the previous decade’s stiff style that ended lower on the waist. The gown’s natural bodice is high waisted and styled with a jeweled belt. The undergarments that gave the previous decades that wide-hipped, stiff look has vanished. The soft and natural look is all the rage. Yet, women are donning a padded roll or the French Farthingale so the skirt, now closed all around, has a rounded, soft shape that falls at folds to the ground. According to my research, the garment called an unfitted gown. An unfitted gown’s silhouette is loose and with long hanging sleeves, which brush against the floor. (Bottom left of the painting). The bodice has a low square neckline with white lace trim.
Naturally, the rest of the look changed. Esther’s hair is curled and wavy hair in a style and most likely, uncovered as was fashionable during this era. She wears a gold crown with spikes.
I encourage you to research the tale behind Esther Before Ahasuerus to learn the story behind this great work of art.